History of the Tosa West Rock


Old photo of the rock in its second location of three.

Annabelle Wooster, Editor

Most graduating classes give their school a plaque or banner but the Wauwatosa West High School class of 1964 gifted a rock. Not just any rock, but a rock that has lasted the test of time and continues to be painted and repainted by current students. 

“Painting the Rock in the dark of night was a wildly fun thing to do with my friends. Every time I see it now, I’m transported back to that time, and I’m grateful for the memories and the lifelong friends I made,” said Mary Raebel, a graduate of the class of 1978.

The idea behind gifting the rock was intended to be seen as unique and representative of the changing times.

“We were the first people to be the first baby boomers. The oldest of the baby boomers…the times were changing…It wasn’t a joke, it was more of like ‘let’s make a statement…let’s do something unique and different,’” said Carol Rosen, a graduate of the class of 1964 

So they did. Rosen described that she can’t quite remember the details of where the rock came from or how it was transported, but she does remember getting permission from school administrators. 

“We were very respectful…I know we wouldn’t have done it without permission,” she recalled. Her best guess is that the rock came from the yard of a parent or somebody in the community.

The rock has occupied three different spots over the course of its existence, yet there are no records that explain why or how the rock was moved. 

The rock originally sat in front of Whitman, facing center street, because Whitman’s current building housed the first west side high school. When the new high school building was built in 1967, the rock moved to the north west side of campus near the football field. Finally, the rock somehow ended up in the grassy space on the east side of the building between the West and the highway.

When the rock was gifted, it came with “64” painted on the side to signify the graduating class and donors of the boulder. And while Rossen said that the original intent w

as not for it to continue to be painted, the tradition stuck.

“It was super fun to paint the rock…and I was happy to be a part of the tradition,” said Olivia Veit, a junior who painted the rock with her theatre friends to promote their upcoming show. 

Alumni and graduates even enjoy adding to the rock’s many layers of paint. Lori Nagel Scarlett, Geri Kempf, and Ann Dreikosen were graduates in 1978. A couple of years ago, they connected while Kempf was in town and decided to keep the tradition alive. 

“As we were reminiscing about our high school years, the Rock came up in conversation. We decided that we needed an activity to do after dinner. So, we went to Ace Hardware, bought some paint, and headed to Tosa West. It was a Friday night and there was a football game being played. It was so much fun, and we felt a bit rebellious!” said Scarlett. 

Just throughout the 2021/2022 school year, the rock has been painted at least fourteen times by different clubs, teams, and even West’s cross town rival, East. Painting the rock is something that many students look forward to.

“I think it’s a great tradition that promotes clubs at West and has become a right of passage for students,” said Veit. 

It’s not just students who enjoy contributing to the ever changing colors of the rock. Members of the community also enjoy keeping tabs on rock’s latest designs. 

“As time goes by, I still enjoy seeing the Rock and what’s painted on it,” said Raebel. “The Rock is a constant. ‘It’s still there,’ I say to myself. And there’s something very comforting about that.”